Viv Griffiths is a Team Leader for St Mungo’s Broadway StreetLink project. She took part in an innovative study trip this year, funded by the London Housing Foundation, to learn more about how homelessness services operate in the United States. In this blog, first published on the St Mungo’s Broadway website, she writes about the power of running and art to improve people’s wellbeing.
On 6 April this year I fell across the finish line of the Brighton Marathon after five hours, one minute and 32 seconds of running (and shuffling, staggering and limping, if I’m being honest). As anyone who has ever attempted to run a marathon will tell you, 26.2 miles is not a challenge to be faced lightly.
Not long after the marathon, I was in San Francisco on the study trip. There I met Ronnie Goodman at the Haight Street artists’ collective store, which also doubles as his studio.
Ronnie is a quietly spoken 54 year old, native San Franciscan. I discovered him through an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, which celebrated his running as well as his talent and creativity as an artist.
Ronnie’s art vibrantly reflects the beauty he sees all around him in the city he loves, as well as his admiration for Frida Kahlo – the focal point of many of Ronnie’s works – who, for him, managed to produce works of great beauty despite the pain she suffered in her life.
In his humble and self deprecating manner, Ronnie explains that, before heading to the store-studio to work on his art, he runs pretty much every day, sometimes five miles, sometimes as many as 15, through the city and along the San Francisco water front.
Ronnie’s commitment to running and art alone would be enough to make him stand out in a crowd, but the truly remarkable thing about Ronnie is that for the past few years he has also been street homeless, living in a tent under San Francisco’s Highway101.
What motivates a man who has to endure sleeping under a busy highway night after night to get up every morning and run long distances before spending the day producing beautiful works of art?
Ronnie’s story is one of drug use, crime and time in prison, as well as an episode of mental illness following the death of his mother.
He has been sober since 2009. With the help of the Hospitality House project in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, Ronnie began using his love for art as a new focus and to maintain his own sobriety.
But it wasn’t until three years ago, when he became street homeless, that Ronnie started running.
When I meet Ronnie he tells me he is using his daily runs to prepare for this summer’s San Francisco marathon, although he confessed to having already covered the marathon distance in a little over three and a half hours; impressive by anyone’s standards.
Ronnie runs for the sake of his emotional wellbeing. As he says in the original SF Chronicle article: “I run because […] it makes you feel good […] it is very spiritual and relaxing. If you have issues you’re going through, you work ‘em out in your head.”
The mental and emotional benefits of regular running are becoming more widely recognised as a catalyst for positive change. By being given the opportunity to develop creatively as an artist and improving his emotional wellbeing through running, Ronnie managed to transform his legacy.
His reputation as an artist is growing day by day along with support for the ‘Run With Ronnie’ campaign. Ronnie is also on a waiting list for subsidised housing and hopes to be in stable accommodation very soon.
At St Mungo’s Broadway, we strongly believe in the power of nurturing talent, whether it be art, running or other creative endeavours, to help people find a positive focus for their energies.
It was the first week of a new autumn term at our Recovery College in London this week. Through our Recovery College our clients, volunteers and staff have the opportunity to tap into their talents. For example, the organisation A Mile in Her Shoes is a group dedicated to helping women experiencing or at risk of homelessness, to build confidence and improve the quality of their lives. They run weekly fitness and running sessions at our Recovery College, tailored to the fitness of each of the women involved.
The Recovery College also offers a wide variety of opportunities to explore creative talents through courses such as art, sketching, film making and music as well as courses around personal development, wellbeing and more.
As the new Recovery College term starts, I hope people are as inspired as I was by Ronnie.
But, of course, it doesn’t have to be about running a marathon or having works of art displayed in a gallery. All positive change is worth celebrating and nurturing.
If you are concerned about someone sleeping rough in England please call StreetLink on 0300 500 0914 who can help to connect that person to local services and support available to them.